Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Smith (Barbara T.) Coffin series and related material
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (110.97 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Barbara T. Smith Coffin series and related material
    Date (inclusive): 1965-1967
    Number: 2013.M.23
    Creator/Collector: Smith, Barbara Turner
    Physical Description: 12.26 Linear Feet (16 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    Abstract: The collection comprises Coffin, a unique set of twenty-five hand-bound artist's books documenting Barbara T. Smith's experiments with an early Xerox 914 copy machine, and a set of working materials and other works related to the Coffin series.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English.

    Biographical / Historical Note

    Barbara T. Smith, a pioneer in performance and body art, was born in Pasadena, California in 1931. She studied painting, art history and religion at Pomona College, graduating in 1953. In 1965, she began to study at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and in 1971, she received her MFA from the University of California, Irvine. While attending UC Irvine, she founded, together with Nancy Buchanan and Chris Burden, the student-run experimental art gallery F-Space. It was at F-Space during the late 1960s where Smith launched her career as an artist at the forefront of feminist, body, and performance art.
    In 1965, shortly before turning to performance and body art, Smith experimented with a photocopy machine. She leased a 914 Xerox copier, placed it in her home for several months and began to explore its artistic potential. Between 1965 and 1966 she produced an extensive body of prints which she used to make artists' books called Coffin, sets of prints called Poetry, and other works.
    Smith used the process of photocopying as a means of formal experimentation to create both abstract and figurative imagery and to explore non-textual narrative and serialized conceptual processes. She experimented with the imaging process by putting common household items, such as food and magazine clippings, flowers, photographs of her husband and children, and even her own body in various states of undress on the photocopier. She was interested in how images can be manipulated and how technical shifts, such as toner and paper style affect texture, tone, and shadows.
    Made by means of personal mental and physical engagement with a machine, the Coffin artists' books and other Xerox works anticipate Smith's performance art that developed just a few years later, including Ritual Meal in 1969, Celebration of the Holy Squash in 1971, and the iconic Feed Me in 1973.
    A retrospective exhibition of Smith's work was held in 2005 at Pomona College Museum of Art, and later travelled to the Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University. In 2008, the Orange County Museum of Art included her Trunk Piece, along with video footage from past performances, in the show Art Since the 1960s: California Experiments. Also in 2008, Smith's Field Piece was shown at The Box gallery in Los Angeles. In 2013,The Box gallery exhibited works Smith created between 1965 and 1966 using the photocopy machine, including the Coffin series.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Barbara T. Smith Coffin series, and related material, 1965-1967, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2013.M.23.

    Acquisition Information

    The collection was acquired in 2013.

    Processing History

    Isabella Zuralski processed the collection and wrote the finding aid.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection comprises Coffin, a unique set of twenty-five hand-bound artists' books documenting Barbara T. Smith's experiments with an early Xerox 914 copy machine, seven additional artists' books called Coffin, five sets of prints called Poetry, and a sketchbook called Xerox Journal which contains working materials related to the Coffin series.
    Twenty-five artists' books from the Coffin series comprise Series I. Series II includes seven additional artists' books called Coffin, five sets of prints called Poetry, and the artist's sketchbook.


    Arranged in two series: Series I. Coffin books, 1965-1966; Series II. Related works and working material, 1965-1967.

    Indexing Terms

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Artists books -- California -- Los Angeles -- 20th century
    Sketchbooks -- California -- 20th century


    Smith, Barbara Turner